UMass upgrading fan experience at McGuirk

  • The McGuirk Stadium enhancements (turf field, videoboard, south hospitality plaza, restrooms and ADA upgrades) will be complete by the start of the 2019 season. The bubble over the new turf practice field will be installed in November 2019 ARTIST RENDERINGS COURTESY UMASS

  • The McGuirk Stadium enhancements (turf field, videoboard, south hospitality plaza, restrooms and ADA upgrades) will be complete by the start of the 2019 season. The bubble over the new turf practice field will be installed in November 2019 ARTIST RENDERINGS COURTESY UMASS

  • The McGuirk Stadium enhancements (turf field, videoboard, south hospitality plaza, restrooms and ADA upgrades) will be complete by the start of the 2019 season. The bubble over the new turf practice field will be installed in November 2019 ARTIST RENDERINGS COURTESY UMASS

  • The McGuirk Stadium enhancements (turf field, videoboard, south hospitality plaza, restrooms and ADA upgrades) will be complete by the start of the 2019 season. The bubble over the new turf practice field will be installed in November 2019 ARTIST RENDERINGS COURTESY UMASS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/14/2019 8:54:52 PM

AMHERST — For four years, athletic director Ryan Bamford has searched for ways to improve the fan experience at UMass events.

Nowhere were changes more needed than at McGuirk Alumni Stadium, which has hosted the Minutemen’s football program since 1965. The stadium has some severely outdated features, including the video board in the south end zone and a lack of permanent restrooms inside the facility.

Both of those things will be a relic of the past when UMass kicks off its home slate this year on Sept. 7 against Southern Illinois. In February, the school announced the plans for its improvement project for McGuirk Stadium, and it included the addition of bathrooms on both the east and west sidelines as well as a new 48-foot video board in the south end zone along with a smaller auxiliary scoreboard in the north end zone.

The projects were funded by a $5.58-million gift from 1968 alum Martin Jacobson that will also finance the indoor bubble for the new practice field that will be installed adjacent to the stadium. Brothers Paul and David Manganaro donated $500,000 to help fund the new video board in the south end zone.

Bamford joked that he couldn’t believe how many fans were excited about bathrooms during a conversation with the Gazette in March, but also highlighted many of the items in the project were no-brainers for the school to invest in for the future.

“The fact that we’ll have permanent bathrooms on the east and west sidelines are long overdue,” Bamford said. “I’m not a genius for putting these things in, these are things that have been sorely needed for a long time. But those creature comfort things, we’ve talked about it for my first four years, we’re now investing in it. Those are creature comfort things that are going to enhance the experience and people are going to want to renew immediately.”

The updates to the football stadium complex also include a new turf practice field and indoor bubble that will be installed after the final home game in November. Those team-centric improvements were also much needed with a lack of indoor space for the Minutemen to practice in over the winter when the weather can affect outdoor training schedules.

However, Bamford said it was just as important for the school to invest in its fans as much as it invests in the team. Although improved on-field results are one way to drum up interest in the games, creating a better fan experience also helps drive spectators back on Saturdays in the fall.

“Those are all things that we try to accommodate not only what we need to do from a team standpoint, but also when 17,000 people come for six games,” Bamford said. “What’s the experience they have from the time they drive into our lots three hours before the game and tailgate to the time that they leave and everything in between. We’ve done our best to do that the last four years based on what we had for infrastructure, now we’re building infrastructure to support an even greater, and that at the end of the day is our ultimate goal.”

In addition to the physical changes to the stadium, the school is also creating several new ticketing options for the 2019 season. The addition of what the school called a “hospitality plaza” in the south end zone will help diversify the viewing options for fans. The area behind the end zone will feature a variety of food and drink options — including alcohol — as well as tables that allow fans to get closer to the action.

Bamford said he wanted to attract more alumni families to the games by giving them an area to sit and socialize in a more high-end space than the bleachers on both sidelines. The athletic director said creating those various ticketing options was important in order to bridge the gap between the wealthy donors in the Hunt Hospitality Suite and the common fans in the grandstands.

“What we wanted to do was create some different ticket and pricing options for people,” Bamford said. “We were finding that we wanted to attract more young families. ... We wanted to create different tiers and really introduce UMass football to different populations.”

Bamford has lofty goals for attendance at McGuirk for the Walt Bell era. UMass has reached 80 percent capacity at McGuirk just three times since games returned in 2014 — homecoming in 2014 and 2016 as well as the first FBS game at the stadium. The Minutemen averaged less than 10,000 fans per game last year in five contests in Amherst.

Yet, Bamford said he is planning as if the stadium will sell out in the coming years and hoping these changes will help drive more fans to games.

“These changes will take us through at least the next five years,” Bamford said. “My goal is to get 17-20,000 people at McGuirk every game, and when we do that and it becomes a high demand and a low limited supply of seats, we figure out how do we grow or how do we do some things differently.”


Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy